Happy Mobro Day

On November 15, many of us will promote buying recycled by celebrating the fourth annual America Recycles Day.

Yet as worthy as this objective may be, why can't recycling have a more festive party on a better day than the halfway point in November? With all due respect to America Recycles Day's organizers, most of the country has lousy weather in mid-November and nothing significant related to recycling happened on November 15.

I have a better idea. Why not celebrate America Recycles Day on March 22? That was the day in 1987 when a tugboat named the Break of Dawn left New York harbor pulling a barge full of Long Island's finest garbage. Intended to be a simple shipment of trash to an Alabama landfill, the garbage barge became the Flying Dutchman of trash as it was barred from port after port.

“Intended to be a simple shipment of trash to an Alabama landfill, the garbage barge [Mobro] became the Flying Dutchman of trash as it was barred from port after port.”

Good timing played a major role in the barge's rise to stardom. Mobro 4000 (the barge's official name) was launched during a slow news period and had little serious competition for the media's attention. As our economy was surging along in the heady prosperity of the late 1980s, yuppie greed was paving the way for a backlash. Garbage, which simply is the effluence of our affluence, was a perfect target.

Before the barge returned home, Greenpeace boarded it to raise a pro-recycling banner; Phil Donohue taped a television show on the Mobro; and Duffy St. Pierre, the tugboat's captain, had his 15 minutes of fame.

With trash the focus of media and political attention, the EPA rediscovered solid waste and created a Task Force, which proceeded to write an Agenda for Action and set a national recycling goal of 25 percent.

What else happened? Curbside recycling, which had been quietly expanding throughout the 1980s, got a massive transfusion of public interest; politicians jumped on the recycling bandwagon as more than 40 states passed recycling legislation; and the fears of a landfill crisis lead to a rapid expansion in disposal capacity.

Ironically, because of the massive increase in recycling we experienced in the 1990s, a glut of disposal capacity still exists in some regions of this country. And, the American recycling rate passed 25 percent and may exceed 30 percent in the year 2000. All of this because of the little barge that couldn't.

Why not rekindle interest in the Mobro? Why don't we declare March 22 as America Recycles Day and National Mobro Day? We could celebrate by dressing in clothes made from old PET bottles, give each other used gifts and sing Three R's songs. Instead of a Mobro tree, we could build a compost pile in the living room. We could even have a slogan — “It's Mobro Day, do you know where your garbage is?” And at the end of our festivities, we can celebrate with a beer, in a refillable bottle, of course.

After all, if it weren't for the Mobro, would we even have an America Recycles Day?

Opinions in this column do not necessarily reflect the National Solid Wastes Management Association or the Environmental Industry Associations. E-mail the author at: cmiller@envasns.org

The columnist is director, state programs for the Environmental Industry Associations, Washington, D.C.